Winter is about to make a grand appearance for people in many states east of the Mississippi River and it won’t be all fun and games – not by a long shot.
Energy coming in from the Pacific (outlined in gray) will drop south and east over the coming days and become a strong coastal storm
After a very warm December and tranquil start to the winter storm season, it looks as though time will run out and things will turn nasty later this week. The culprit is a low pressure area still over the Pacific just off of California and Oregon that is forecast by the major global computer models to dive south and east for a date with destiny. I know that sounds rather over the top but what happens to that piece of energy over the coming days is quite remarkable.
By Friday morning, the evolution of the pattern will be such that snow will begin to break out across parts of North Carolina and Virginia. By this point in time, the energy from the Pacific has carved out a sharp trough of low pressure over the Mississippi Valley region – indicating a lot of energy gathering in the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, a surface low will develop in eastern North Carolina by Friday afternoon that is the match that lights the fire. From there, things become very interesting and even concerning as the storm begins to fester over the warm water of the western Atlantic.
GFS depiction of the coastal storm and all of its impacts affecting many states along the East Coast and inland
All of the available model guidance suggests that a fairly strong low pressure area will move up the coast from around Cape Hatteras to just offshore of southern New England. This classic Nor’easter pattern is set to bring phenomenal amounts of snow to a lot of people, especially away from the immediate coast. I am no weather winter expert so trying to decipher how much snow and where is beyond my ability. What I do know a lot about is impact and I see this storm as bringing potentially major impacts to people across more than a dozen states.
The snow will be excessive in places, again, impossible to know precisely where. Travel from many major airports will be snarled and people will be stranded. Highway travel will become a matter of taking your life in to your hands when the insane snow begins. Best to just stay put.
The storm will have a lot of energy with it, due in part to the very warm ocean temps as compared to normal. Also, the atmosphere will add plenty of energy and force the storm to intensify and crank up the wind. This will be an especially important impact since high wind coupled with feet of snow never makes for a happy ending.
Along the coast from Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and points north, the potential is there for coastal flooding not seen since Sandy in 2012. Luck is not on our side either because the moon is full this weekend and that will add to the overall storm tide that sets up. Make no mistake, this part of the storm will go vastly overlooked by major media who will focus on the blizzard conditions inland. Meanwhile, the coastlines of New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware will get pounded by coastal flooding, potentially causing significant damage in surge prone areas.
Farther north, strong winds and heavy rain in the warmer sector of the storm will mean miserable conditions for areas such as eastern Long Island and southern New England. Once the cold air mixes in enough, the snow will come, though it’s hard to say how much and for how long.
When all is said and done, this storm will likely be compared to some from the mid-1990s that battered the region with near hurricane conditions. Yes, it could be that bad.
Or, it might not be.
As the case seems to always be, enough uncertainty exists this far out ahead of the event that there is still room for something to happen that changes the outcome significantly. Remember, weather is about the probability of something happening in most cases. Right now there is a rather high probability that a major Nor’easter will develop and impact a lot of people. This is not the same as a certainty. Even when it is unfolding on top of the East Coast, timing, track and other factors will determine the final result. I am here to make sure you realize the totality of the storm. It’s not just fluffy white snow that will make for some pretty Instagram pics. Some places will be slammed with more snow than they can handle. Again, coastal areas of the Mid-Atlantic are likely to be blasted by near hurricane force winds and possible major coastal flooding. In other words, as much as we like winter storms (most people do I guess) they are a deadly part of weather not unlike hurricanes and tropical storms. Don’t let the enormous snow totals being thrown about blind you to the other hazards and prepare accordingly.
I am most likely going to head out in to the storm myself with some of the same equipment that we use during hurricane landfalls. I will wait until tomorrow to make the final call and will post more about my plans and what equipment I will be putting out. It should be one heck of a storm and I will do by very best to immerse you in to it like no one else can.
One last bit of advice. I mention the NWS a lot in my blogs when something big is about to go down. If you want straight-up info without any bias thrown in for website clicks or page likes, simply go to weather.gov and input your ZIP Code. From there scroll down to where you see “Forecast Discussion”. Click that and read it. It’s technical in nature but you can get an inside look at precisely what your LOCAL forecast office is thinking and why. No hype, no agenda, just raw analysis based on the best available data. Use it and be informed!
I’ll have more tomorrow morning.